Am I still on that feckin’ planet?

I went to the movies before Christmas with my youngest son. The film was Interstellar, a science fiction thing with some interesting ideas and themes running through it, but all stitched together by an enduring father and daughter relationship. My wife told me the next day that he’d said I was very quiet at the end of the movie. She wasn’t snitching, just doing her job as part of the parent Mafia, reporting as usual on what the Kremlin watchers were thinking.

By the time you’ve worked your way through a few decades of marriage, there’s a whole shorthand at work. Any remark has a number of layers to it and non-verbal communication doesn’t even begin to cover it. Though you still get that warm cuddle up in the mornings, that doesn’t prevent you from getting a good kick up the backside from them when you need it, no matter in how understated a fashion it’s being done. She often sees stuff I don’t and the reverse applies, but I still choose to reserve my reaction to such revelations, and that’s a part of the space we give each other. An enduring partnership through life involves concessions but never enslavement.

I replayed the aftermath of the “cinematic experience” with him in my head and she was right to reproach me. He’d been excited by the thing, really wanted to talk about it as we strolled back to where I’d parked up the car. I’d been withdrawn and uncommunicative, wrapped up in my own thoughts at the end of it and I’d perhaps denied him that conversation. Long long ago, in a universe far far away, I recall feeling that same starburst of optimism on my first viewing of Kubrick’s 2001 a Space Odyssey.

We’ve since had the conversation and as always with him it was an interesting one. I find him very hard to get a handle on, which pleases me in a rather perverse way. Yes, when push comes to shove, I’ve always been their slightly hard-assed Dad but at the same time, I’ve never done dog training. Any fool can do that. You really do have to aim higher or what’s the point. I always wanted them to be a little bit better than me and to go out there and have a good old wrestle with the world. I’ll watch them and wait and be optimistic they won’t disappoint themselves or bruise an old scarred heart.

You do have to keep in touch with popular culture because it deals with mainstream if not cliché ideas, which means it plays to what the ordinary person is thinking, rather than what the self-anointed guardians of their salvation insist they should be thinking. Unlike the elitists, I don’t think people can be led to your particular idea of enlightenment by grabbing them by two fingers up their nostrils and dragging them along unceremoniously.

You may seem to be getting away with it but you’re insulting their common sense and more importantly, their dignity. They always know and silently resent that. What was interesting about the movie was that it had so many ideas which were counter the establishment narrative and indeed a few scenes that grabbed that narrative by the throat and shook it like a rag doll.

A thumb nail sketch of the movie is it’s about a man, a farmer and widower with two children, a boy and a girl. There’s an oblique reference to him having been an astronaut at one time but now the Earth is in trouble because all the staple crops are failing one after another, so there’s no interest in space exploration because the world is starting to starve. He’s trying his best but his father in law tells him he was never supposed to be a dustbowl farmer at the lingering end of the world but his son patently is.

The daughter is the child too much like him, too attached to him. She’ll never be content with being an appendage of someone working the land. She’s the child of your heart and the one you dread. Just too bloody much of the strange and awkward bits of you in them. He sees in her all the restless demons he’s worked so hard to bury by pretending to be satisfied as a farmer; the impatience to explore terra incognita even if it’s off terra, his idea that we were born on Earth but were not destined to stay there. As he expresses it, the Earth has been giving us a message for some time. It’s finally booting us out of the nest.

Like him, she isn’t a good fit in the settle for less culture of the time and never will be; the curse of the restless spirit. He goes to a parent teacher interview and asking about how his son is shaping up to get into college, is told the world needs farmers more than engineers. You can see in his face the restraint being exercised because he already knows in his heart the son loves the soil and he’s accepted that, but when they move over to his daughter and telling him she might need some psychological counselling because she’d brought an old book to school about the moon landings, things get darker. Everyone knows they were faked, he’s told.

The institutionalised triumph of sheer stupidity is staring him in the face across a desk from two educators of his children.

You never find out his reply to that but when he gets home and she asks him with a certain trepidation how it went, he tells her in passing that he’s managed to get her suspended from school. It’s his off-hand way of telling her she’s right and the whole of the school establishment are just irrelevant, because she’s brighter than the whole bunch of them put together, which she actually is – don’t worry about it Kiddo. He long ago realized she’s well out of most people’s league including his, but he’s still her dad, she’s still his kid and he will protect her always. Those two have a very hard-wired direct communication link, a shorthand which leaves no hiding place for either the father or the young child. The emotions between them are simply raw.

From that starting point, the movie splits off into two separate timelines which interconnect like a temporal double helix at times, but they’re both about saving humanity from an Earth that’s dying. Plan A is to crack some sort of anti-gravity theory to enable the mass lift off of humanity into a resource-rich solar system. Plan B is the long shot, the last desperate throw of the dice. It involves packing a few spaceships with the DNA of life on Earth, a few crewmen and firing them at the best guesses of stars which might have planets in the goldilocks zone.

He gets sucked into Plan B because he’s one of the few people left who’s actually been in space. It means leaving her but he promises he’ll return but she’s beyond consolation. He’s betrayed her, abandoned her, and that’s unforgivable in her child’s world. She gets quantum entangled into Plan A because she’s one of life’s blessedly shiny pennies.

I’m not going to do the whole movie. Go and see it for yourself, but his journey is in the venerable tradition of the Odyssey, complete with adventures, ups and downs, near skin of the teeth misses and a few characters of note. There’s even one called Mann who falsifies his research findings, but that’s of course a nod towards Michael Mann the director, rather than any reference to the thrice CPOTY failure.

It is an end of the world movie but surprisingly it’s not us causing that particular event. It touches on the dumbing down of education, of self-sacrifice for not only a greater good but for a fellow crewman, the sort of love that never fades and an optimistic and aspirational view of us as a species. Forget global warming. If you really need to worry about something, one visit from a decent-sized piece of the Oort Cloud, and we’ll go the way of the dinosaurs. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. We do have to get off this rock because all the eggs are in one basket at the moment.

Despite what people might think, progress, however you define it, is a two way street. To my mind, we’ve been going backwards for too many years and perhaps the movie signals a change in popular consciousness.

Anyway, by the time he finally gets back to her, he’s been through the Einstein time dilation loop, which means that although it’s only been a few years for him, decades have passed for everyone else. The child he left behind is now an elderly lady, but revered because she’s the one who cracked the anti-gravity problem that allowed the mass exodus.

They have a conversation but in the end she tells him no parent should see their child die and shoos him from her presence in a hospital bed where she’s holding court surrounded by her own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. It’s an act of love, reconciliation and unconditional forgiveness of him for not getting back sooner. Just go on now and keep following your star. A simple act of love like that can be devastating unless there’s that massive connection between you both.

The last few minutes show him stealing a ship and I think most probably going to join the only other survivor of plan B, who’s reached another planet and is starting a colony. He’s going to join her but he’ll always be an Odysseus, doomed by his nature to stand up in the prow of a boat and be raged and lashed at by an angry sea but daring everything to find out what’s over that horizon.

After so many years of nihilistic propaganda about our innate human evilness, I went to it with little or nothing in the way of expectations. For a change, a popular box office hit is not about us being the curse, it’s about us being the promise. It genuinely surprised me and it stunned me.

And that’s why I was so quiet.


Related articles by Pointman:

The Age of Unenlightenment.

The difficult kind.

It’s 2.45 in the am and I’m reflecting on a long night’s journey into day.

Click for a list of other articles.

20 Responses to “Am I still on that feckin’ planet?”
  1. Rick Bradford says:

    ** plays to what the ordinary person is thinking, rather than what the self-anointed guardians of their salvation insist they should be thinking. **

    Really? I can well remember 2005 when Crash (liberal take on racist prejudice) beat out Brokeback Mountain (sympathetic to homosexuality) for the Oscar, with the other nominated film being Munich (portraying Mossad agents and Palestinian terrorists as morally equivalent).

    Very much what the self-anointed guardians would approve of.


    • Pointman says:

      Unless I’m mistaken, it’s only “members of the academy” who get to vote for the Oscars, not Joe the truck driver or Betty the waitress – basically the showbiz luvvies get to vote for each other or settle old scores.



      • Old Rooster says:

        I understand that mutual masturbation is an oft encountered cultural feature of primitive societies which have far too much idle time on their hands.


  2. Magnum says:

    Dear Pointman
    I very much enjoy your essays and find them most thought provoking.
    I think you might find that it is “our Mann” being referenced in the film, lots of other commenters have found so, including, I think, Mark Steyn!!
    All good wishes for the New Year, although I feel it will be a sticky one.


    • Truthseeker says:

      Magnum, I agree with you. It was an oppurtunity have a go at our beloved Dr Michael Mann with the perfect cover of the director’s name in case a lawsuit was fired at the film-makers.


  3. beththeserf says:

    ‘I don’t think people can be led to your particular idea of enlightenment
    by grabbing them by two fingers up their nostrils and dragging them
    along ceremoniously.’

    Should be part of the Educationalists’ Manual.


  4. Russ Wood says:

    Asteroids: Nature’s way of asking “How’s that space program coming along?”


  5. Dalwhinnie says:

    Pointman: Always a pleasure. Please take a look at my reviews. They are consistent with your vision but I confess yours was way deeper.


  6. Pointman says:

    Pour les enfants de Paris. Mon coeur, c’est avec tu.


  7. durango12 says:

    A dissenting opinion. While there are a few good ideas, as usual the authors succumb to excesses, piling every SciFi theme into the mix whether they makes sense or not. It makes for a disjointed mess.


    • Old Rooster says:

      Will have to wait for the ‘home media’ version to see this but have heard good things about this film from a number of sources now. You are probably right about the matters you cavil about but if it is a disjointed mess then surely that reflects real life or as Martin Esslin might have termed it the Theatre of the Absurd. Which leads me to observe if life has a point then perhaps it is the Omega Point. I’ll have to trust in God to set me straight about this eventually because I doubt there is any politician or scientist that I could rely upon to get it right. They all insist they have the right answers which is so reassuring given they never seem to ask the right questions. At least here we have man who makes a point of making the effort to try to find the right questions and maybe canvas the candidates for answers. I like to think that most of us who contribute here join him in that endeavour so I thank you for your reasoned if laconic dissenting opinion. By assembling the picture from many observers we may finally begin to comprehend the Elephant.


      • Blackswan says:

        G’day Rooster – as one old ‘bird’ to another, may I say that when it comes to asking the right questions, you can always be relied upon to come up with the right answers – even to the wrong questions. Your “I am Spartacus” analogy absolutely nailed it this week – no, we aren’t all fearless publishers but they’ll have to take us all out to win. Sadly, the wilfully blind will never figure out just what part of the elephant they’re clutching in their clammy fists.


      • Old Rooster says:

        Dear C. atratus
        What struck me in much of the media reaction was their failure to comprehend the inspiration of ‘Je suis Charlie’ as to source and meaning. Too many have mistaken it for a self identification with Charlie Hebdo and an endorsement of all its values and opinions. As you say it is more an expression that they have taken us all on. Charlie Hebdo was no great leader, more of a petulant child, but our petulant child. It is just possible that Christendom will once more unite against these barbarians because of this atrocity. There have been so many more better reasons such as Boko Haram but it seems it needed to be closer to home. Still much of the leadership of Europe and other Western nations doesn’t seem to get it, still trying to placate or appease that which requires to be pacified—with extreme prejudice!


      • Blackswan says:

        Rooster – Have we ever seen a more in-yer-face display of utter hypocrisy than so-called ‘world leaders’ shuffling through the streets of Paris? Merkel who, just days before, had dismissively chided hundreds of thousands of Germans protesting the Islamisation of their homeland. Cameron, desperate to mollify Brits sworn to vote UKIP, with a litany of broken promises crunching under his feet. Egypt has imprisoned journalists still rotting in jail, Turkey is buying stolen ISIS oil and facilitating the genocide across the border, Israel publishing street-scene pics of the Paris assembly with all the women air-brushed out on the grounds of “modesty”, and our President of the Senate representing a government whose Prime Minister Abbott broke a pre-election promise to repeal the Socialists’ Section 18C of our Racial Vilification Laws.

        Yes folks, in Australia it is a criminal offence that can land you in prison if you cause another person to be “offended” by anything you say or publish. Hurting someone’s feelings in Oz can see you in a Court of Law.

        How much more of this can a koala bear?


      • Old Rooster says:

        Have only read about the marches but hypocrisy still seems an inadequate word to describe what happened. These world leaders are still excusing the inexcusable and making the victims and potential victims (those who oppose or resist Islam in any way) to be the at fault party for being so intolerant. Many conservatives compare these disingenuous shocks to Neville Chamberlain but that is unfair. He was after all a man of principle which he demonstrated many times in his career of public service. He desperately sought peace but, after having been deceived once too often by Hitler, threw himself into waging war against evil with selfless devotion and essentially died in harness as a much trusted and valued member of the War Cabinet. As Gillard, KRudd, and many other of their fellow travellers have shown once they’ve fulfilled their petty ambitions and filled their boots they quit to take up whatever sinecures they can lay their grubby hands on. Their counterparts in the US, Britain, and Europe are no different.

        As to 18C of course one can only be offended if one belongs to a PC recognised group of the wrongfully oppressed. Birds of our feather will never qualify as a victim no matter how incensed we are.


      • Old Rooster says:

        Sorry the autocorrect slipped one by me again. For “shocks” read “shonks”. I’ll be mistaken for Fred Nile next!😱😉❗️


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